What To Expect When Implementing
Limiting the Challenges of Taking a Project to the Finish
At Guide Studio, we employ a unique methodology—we call it Design with Direction™ —creativity balanced with purpose. This process encompasses three key phases of work: Dig Down, our strategic planning phase, Build Up, our creative design phase and Move Forward, where our strategic design solutions come to life.
Welcome to our three-part series that provides a deeper dive into our strategic design process we call Design With Direction™. Whether we are embarking on the development of a new brand or a signage and wayfinding program, this methodology ensures that we are dotting our “i’s” and crossing our “t’s” throughout the project to deliver the most effective visual communication solutions.
This series hopes to give all our partners: clients, contractors, fabricators, etc., a clear picture of the work that is conducted behind the scenes and what to expect from each part of our strategic process.
We oversee the design as it comes to life. We are beginning at the end because our goal is always an implemented project that reaches our clients’ goals.
The Implementation Phase, or often referred to by our design consultants as the Move Forward Phase, is an exciting time in the process of the project. This is where your brand is launched, your signs go in the ground or your website is deployed. During Move Forward, the design consultant and client are providing critical project documentation to an entirely new member of the project team—a sign fabricator, a printer, or perhaps a web developer.
Communication is important in all phases, and is critical during implementation. Every party must clearly understand their roles in reviews, approvals and coordination between entities outside of the client’s purview.
We recognize that implementation is THE major investment for our clients. The end product will be owned, managed and maintained by them for the lifespan of the product. If things go wrong with the production, fabrication or installation, the costs can be quite high.
So Who Is Doing What?
As design consultants we have worked through the entire process to get to this phase. Our responsibilities up to this point have been to plan and design a project that aligns with your objectives and goals, is well designed, and can actually be implemented.
For environmental graphic design projects, this means producing detailed design intent drawings that include notes carefully specifying materials and products that may be used in fabrication. For branded identity systems and communication materials, this means that our documents must be constructed for printing—containing images with appropriate resolution, properly specified type, as well as instructions for production methods.
As we get ready to hand off our design work to a contractor, we must carefully prepare instructive drawings and supportive information that not only help in pricing the design work to be implemented but ensure that the party producing or constructing the work fully understands what the final product should look like and the quality that is expected.
Instructional communication is key. We have spent years gaining knowledge and expertise to understand how we must draw and construct documents that communicate to others so they can bring these carefully developed designs to life.
The implementation contractors—the sign fabricator, the printer or web developer—have the initial responsibility to review our documents carefully. This means reviewing every drawing, every specification note, every document provided to ensure they understand the work they are about to embark on. They must raise questions and concerns regarding what they’ve reviewed based on their knowledge and expertise.
At this point in the project, our clients (the owners) have signed off on the design and they may have approved a proposal and met with the new contractor. They have either chosen our team to see it through to the end, or they’ve taken on the responsibility to manage the implementation contractor as they begin to produce or fabricate the project.
Handing off our designs to those that will be producing them is probably the point in the process that holds the most anxiety for us. We are no longer in control, but it doesn’t mean that we are not involved.
This part of the phase is when a large part of the responsibility falls to the implementation contractor. Whether they are preparing their own documents for construction or fabrication, assembling files for printing or beginning programming for a website, they are taking ownership of the final product and producing documentation that will demonstrate to the design consultants or owners that they understand the intent and can describe how the final product will actually be created. The implementation contractor will submit color proofs, shop drawings, material samples, layouts or even product mark-ups for review by the design consultants and/or owner.
Our responsibility is to ensure that the design intent is being followed based on all the information we initially provided. We carefully review (but do not formally approve) the documents presented by the implementation contractor and bring up any questions and concerns. We also expect Implementation contractors to utilize their experience to make material and/or fabrication recommendations that will maintain or improve the quality and potentially bring a cost savings to the client. These recommendations also must be carefully evaluated.
As I stated before, some of our clients choose to handle this part of the project on their own. While this happens occasionally, we don’t encourage it. Our knowledge of the design and our experience in this phase help us to identify potential issues and problems that may arise, allowing us to solve them quickly or avoid them all together. If a client chooses to handle this on their own, we require them to sign a waiver stating that they are now taking ownership and responsibility for the final design and outcome of the project.
The Finish Line
While the responsibilities still fall heavily on the implementation team as a project is being completed, there are still several activities and responsibilities that may need to be performed by the design consultant or owner.
Print projects and web sites potentially involve press checks or site testing before they go live. For environmental graphic design projects, the activities may be much more intensive.
When installing sign projects, there are many levels of coordination and communication that may have to occur. This may include scheduling installation, investigating on-site location issues and coordinating with government agencies and utility companies, other trades and/or subcontracted installation teams.
This is the point where excitement is high for the finished product, but also where disappointment may abound if something has gone wrong. It requires diligent attention to ensure things go right.
It’s a wrap! But just like a movie production there is still more work to do after the filming is complete. In a final review, all parties—client/owner, design consultant, contractor/fabricator—will review the final product, note any issues or defects and submit those items for correction.
I believe this is the time that is hardest for our clients. They want to be done, they are ready to move on or begin utilizing what we have created for them but must wait again for corrections to take place. Depending on the level of work that needs to be corrected, this could take days or weeks.
So Now That You Know What To Expect…
I googled “quotes for expectations” as I was writing this paper. It’s amazing how many negative quotes are associated with the word “expectations.” When setting up these papers on what to expect from our process, I thought it was appropriate to share from our experiences so that you may understand that even the best laid plans…can go awry. However, if I’ve learned anything in my almost 20 years in design it is: “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.”
Measure Twice, Cut Once
That popular statement is crucial in all types of design execution. But I will share some examples specifically from our environmental graphic design work—the highest cost and highest risk projects.
In the beginning of our implementation process, we talked about sharing documentation with a new player, the sign fabricator. They are coming into the project with fresh eyes and little to no understanding of how we have reached our final design solutions, but with the expectation that they will build them and install them.
Our work as environmental graphic designers means we are providing graphic communication within a physical environment. That means there is a context to which we must always design. Scale, size and dimensional understanding of a space is vital, not only for it to look good, but for it to actually fit.
While we hate to admit mistakes, we have had projects for which we’ve produced designs only to find our measurements weren’t accurate and the final implementation didn’t fit.
This may happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the architectural drawings we were provided were not accurate to the actual space we were designing for. This can be avoided by requiring field measurements by those constructing/producing the final product BEFORE the product gets built.
Another instance is that the production art created was at the wrong scale for what needed to be installed. Requiring pre-installation walk-thrus and actual scale mockups are helpful in ensuring that what is provided to produce and what is actually being produced match up. Several fabrication partners have helped us catch this error ahead of time because we reviewed a mock-up in the space.
Don’t Send Me My Drawings!
I’m not sure if this one is really a lesson learned or more of a pet peeve. When we provide design drawings to fabricators, we do so with the stated expectation that they will produce shop drawings; these are detailed drawings that actually show HOW our designs will be constructed. Don’t get me wrong, I think we produce some really great design documentation, BUT we have noted all over our drawings that they are not for construction—they are for design intent only. We are not developing construction or attachment details and we are not engineers so we are not detailing the “bones” of a structure. We help select and hire sign contractors/fabricators that have carefully cultivated their own expertise around constructing and installing sign programs with their equipment and capabilities. When I receive a set of shop drawings that are basically a photocopy of my drawings with their title block on them… let’s say I may have screamed a few times.
We ask our implementation partners specifically for shop drawings in all our instructional documents. We do this because we want to see and understand how they think, how they would engineer a design, if they would recommend a different material because it performs better and how the sign will actually be constructed while still aligning with our design intent. We want Details. Details. Details. It is the main method for how we know the contractors/fabricators understand what we have designed. The lesson here: the shop drawing review process will take up way more time than necessary if our drawings are sent back to us.
The Lowest Bid
This is a touchy subject for our clients. I know many of them are torn between the requirement of selecting the lowest bidding contractor and understanding that you sometimes get what you pay for. Again, this may not be a lesson learned as much as something to watch out for.
When we are going through the bidding process for larger projects, it is often open to the public. The degree of control falls heavily on whether we have provided enough instruction and documentation to get apples to apples proposals.
To make sure we know that this level of documentation is necessary, it is very important for us to know in our Phase I Dig Down that a project will be publicly bid (we’ll get to that in the upcoming position papers).
What also makes the lowest bid a tenuous situation for us—especially if it is well below our project budget estimate or other comparable proposals—is that it often alerts us that something is not understood or the proposed bidder is using a product or method different from what we’ve specified. We counter this by performing interviews with the lowest bidder to ensure that they understand the scope of work and we are comfortable with their level of expertise and understanding. “Lowest and best” makes us a little more comfortable.
Communicate and Coordinate
For some of our clients, implementing a sign program, creating a new brand or deploying a new website may be a one time endeavor. As your consultant, it is our job to communicate all that needs to happen, alert you to what could happen and guide you through the process. Our responsibility continues with having our implementation partners ensure that they understand the same level of communication and coordination is required by them once they join the team.
While we can’t promise that everything will be perfect, we believe that with the clear expectations, proper communication and careful guidance even the most complex projects can arrive at a successful completion.